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January 4, 2012 | last updated January 5, 2012 11:12 am

State payments prompt disclosure debate

Over the last seven years, the state paid almost $235 million to organizations headed by lawmakers or their spouses, funding that was not required to be reported to the public, according to a report from the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting.

The journalism nonprofit found several instances between 2003 and 2010 in which private organizations run by state legislators or their spouses received state money, but that state law did not require them to disclose the funding or a possible conflict of interest. The center found that Sen. Joseph Brannigan, D-Portland, was chairman of the Appropriations and Health and Human Services committees as well as executive director of Shalom House, a social services agency in Portland, when it received $98 million from the state, and that former Health and Human Services Commissioner Brenda Harvey's husband, David Lawlor, was the executive director of Mobius Inc. when it received $15.4 million. Some of the lawmakers cited in the nonprofit's investigation said their private work was well known by their colleagues. State law requires lawmakers to report only when the state purchases goods or services from them or their spouse as individuals, but not from a corporation they oversee.

Jonathan Wayne, executive director of the state's Commission on Governmental Ethics, told the center state disclosure laws should be broadened so the public knows when companies run by public officials and family members have major state contracts.

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